Can an App Create the Perfect Daily Schedule for Your Teen?

Life is all about balance.

Finding happiness – or at least a daily schedule you can live with – takes trial and error.

As adults, we know what’s best for us. Over the years, we learn how much sleep we need, how much exercise we need, how much downtime we need, and how much work we need to do to make the money that covers necessities like rent, food, transportation, healthcare, and all those things that make adulting fun.

But how do our kids learn what works best for them?

With our help, of course.

As parents, we get most of our guidance on this from relatively few sources. First, we look to our parents or primary caregivers. We consider how we grew up and decide whether to use that template or not. Next, we take the advice of pediatricians and other experts. We take their advice about things like sleep, exercise, nutrition, and what kind of extracurricular activities will best support our kids’ physical, social, emotional, and psychological health.

When we get that expert guidance, we still have decisions to make.

Most experts agree on things like sleep, exercise, and healthy eating: more of all of those are good for any child or teen. But the jury is out on things like screen time, self-care, and how much schoolwork our kids should do outside of school time.

Some child development experts swear screen time is the root of almost all the problem teens have in the 21st century. Others are sure teen problems are caused by a lack of self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal skills they could learn by increasing time spent on self-care. Still others believe an overemphasis on academic achievement creates stress and leads to mental health problems.

How do we know who’s right?

Who should we listen to?

There May Be an App for That

We jest, we jest – but not really.

Hold that thought.

The answer to the first question above is that there is no real right or wrong answer to many of those questions. With the exception of sleep, exercise, and nutrition: we can objectively identify what’s healthy in those areas. Science tells us all we need to know, there. Here’s a crib sheet: kids and teens need around 10-12 hours of sleep a night, a bare minimum of one hour of exercise a day, and a diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean protein, with as little processed food and white sugar as tolerable.

Apologies: we had to get that in.

With regards to the second question, the person you should listen to – with your eyes and ears – is your child or teen. They’ll tell you all you need to know about whether their schedule works for them through how they behave, how they appear, and what they say to you.

Nevertheless, it’s still a process of trial and error: you set the schedule, observe the results, and change the schedule based on what you see.

That’s where a new app developed in Australia comes in: it can help you predict the consequences of daily schedule changes in the life of your teen.

Really.

It may – in the best of all possible worlds – eliminate some of the trial and error involved in finding an ideal daily schedule for your child or teen.

How Schedule Changes Impact Overall Wellbeing

The paper “Your Best Day: An Interactive App to Translate How Time Reallocations Within A 24-Hour Day Are Associated With Health Measures” describes how a group of health researchers and app developers created a pre-teen and teen specific scheduling app.

Here’s how the researchers/developers describe their effort:

“Reallocations of time between daily activities such as sleep, sedentary behavior and physical activity are differentially associated with markers of physical, mental and social health. An individual’s most desirable allocation of time may differ depending on which outcomes they value most, with these outcomes potentially competing with each other for reallocations. We aimed to develop an interactive app that translates how self-selected time reallocations are associated with multiple health measures.”

That’s a fancy way of saying this:

  • Behavior affects health
  • How you spend your time depends on the results you want
  • You can achieve your desired results by altering your behavior
  • This app can help you predict how altering your behavior can lead to different health outcomes

Let’s take a look at how they developed the app.

First, researchers recruited 1,874 participants from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). All participants were 11-12 years old during the study period. About half were male, and half female. Researchers administered an assessment called the Multimedia Activity Recall for Children and Adolescents (MARCA), an evidence-based tool that tracks daily behavior among kids and teens in time increments as small as five minutes. Each participant reported on three days of activity, including at least one school and one non-school day. Researchers collected the first day of data in-person, and collected data for the remaining two days via telephone interview.

Researchers tracked the following activities:

24-Hour Activity Composition

  1. Sleep
  2. Screen time
  3. Physical activity
  4. Quiet time
  5. Passive transport
  6. School-related activities
  7. Domestic/self-care activities

In addition, for each participant, researchers collected the following information.

Physical, Psychosocial, and Academic Metrics

They used all this information to create an app.

Here’s how it works: you enter the amount of time your child or teen spends on the seven domains listed above, in order to create a baseline. Then, you add or subtract time from each domain, and the app – based on the data collected from close to 2,000 11-12 year-olds – predicts what impact those changes will have on the three health/wellness domains: body fat, psychosocial health, and academic performance.

When you add or subtract time with easy to operate sliders – located on the left side of the user interface, the outcome on wellness appears in percentages of increase of decrease for each wellness domain in colored fields on the right side of the user interface.

What that means is that you can model changes to predict outcomes.

We’ll explain.

How We Used the App

When we went to the app, we found these default settings, which the researchers considered a valid baseline for children and preteens in Australia:

  1. Sleep: 11.8 hours
  2. Screen time: 2.9 hours
  3. Physical activity: 2.0 hours
  4. Quiet time: 1.2 hours
  5. Passive transport: 0.6 hours
  6. School-related activities: 2.2 hours
  7. Domestic/self-care activities: 3.4 hours

When we think about preteens and teens in the U.S., we see those numbers don’t really reflect what our preteens and teens do: ours spend much more time in school. We’ll adjust those baseline numbers for you below. First, though, we’ll show you what changes to that initial baseline – for Australian preteens – meant for the health metrics.

Based on that initial baseline, reallocating 60 minutes from screen time to physical activity was associated with:

  • 4.2% decrease in body fat
  • 2.5% improvement in psychosocial health
  • 0.9% increase in academic performance

From that baseline, reallocating 60 minutes from physical activity to screen time was associated with:

  • 3.3% increase in body fat
  • 2.3% decrease in psychosocial health
  • 0.8% decrease in academic performance

From that baseline, reducing sleep and physical activity by 60 minutes and increasing school-related activity by 60 minutes is associated with:

  • 4.2% increase in body fat
  • 3.2% decrease in psychosocial health
  • 0.5% increase in academic performance

That was for Australian kids, derived from the default, baseline values inserted by the study authors. Let’s see what changes to the schedule of a typical teen who lives and goes to school in the U.S. might look like.

Teens, Scheduling, And Wellness: Predicting Outcomes

After exploring changes to their baseline values, we decided to change the baseline to what a typical preteen in the U.S. might experience on any given school day. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Sleep: 9.8 hours
  2. Screen time: 2.9 hours
  3. Physical activity: 2.0 hours
  4. Quiet time: 1.2 hours
  5. Passive transport: 0.6 hours
  6. School-related activities: 7.2 hours
  7. Domestic/self-care activities: 0.4 hours

From that initial baseline, increasing physical activity by 60 minutes and reducing screentime by 60 minutes is associated with:

  • 3.2% decrease in body fat
  • 4.6% increase in psychosocial health
  • 0.8% increase in academic performance

From that initial baseline, increasing physical activity by 60 minutes, increasing domestic/self-care by 60 minutes, and reducing screentime by 60 minutes is associated with:

  • 3.3% decrease in body fat
  • 24.0% increase in psychosocial health
  • 15.3% increase in academic performance

Going in the opposite direction, decreasing physical activity by 60 minutes and increasing screentime by 60 minutes is associated with:

  • 3.5% increase in body fat
  • 5.7% decrease in psychosocial health
  • 0.4% decrease in academic performance

As an experiment from that baseline, we decreased sleep by 30 minutes, increased physical activity by 60 minutes, increased school related activity by 60 minutes, and decreased domestic and self-care activities by 31 minutes. Here’s what the app predicted:

  • 5.7% decrease in body fat
  • 27.9% increase in psychosocial health
  • 16.9% increase in academic performance

You can experiment with the app yourself and determine whether it may be beneficial in planning a daily schedule for your teen. We find the interaction between adding and subtracting various time categories instructive.

In some cases, changes we expected to be associated with negative consequences yielded positive results, because other changes mitigated the negatives and yielded net positives.

We’ll explain.

Scheduling Your Teen: Some Changes Yield Unexpected Results

For instance, considering the last example above, we didn’t expect reducing sleep time and domestic/self-care would be associated with psychosocial improvement – but it did. And let’s clarify: the app modeling is based on data collected from kids and teens, in the manner we describe above. These are not simply academic numbers created and presented in the vacuum of cyberspace: they’re based on real answers from real humans.

That’s what makes this app so interesting, and why it may help millions of parents and teens plan healthy day

We encourage you to navigate to the app –  Design Your Best Day – and experiment. Fill in values that match your teen’s schedule, make changes that you think may bring the outcome you desire – and see what happens. The app may confirm your instincts, or it may offer valuable insight about the changes you never would have considered.

In any case, this tool has our attention right now – and we hope it can help you find the best possible daily schedule for your teen.